Above: An MP candidate for Phalang Pracharat Party draws sword at a shrine in Korat on Thursday for good luck.
BANGKOK — Critics already fume that junta chairman Prayuth Chan-ocha holds an unfair edge going into Election Day, from the 250 senators in hand and a publicly funded campaign to a little thing called absolute power.
Now he seems to have found even more assistance – a supernatural cosmic entity.
In a viral Facebook post that baffled many netizens, a former Thammasat University professor said he meditated and successfully tamed the “sacred power from the above” earlier this month. His wish for the higher power? That Prayuth get to serve another term as prime minister.
“My first wish during the ritual for this country is I wish Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha will continue to be prime minister, for the sake of peace in the country,” Suvinai Pornavalai, who taught political economy until his retirement in 2016, wrote Thursday.
As proof, he posted a photo of himself meditating cross-legged under what appears to be the lid cover for a lotus basin at a “dragon god shrine” in Chaiyaphum province.
Although Suvinai’s ceremony is an extreme example, politicians of nearly all stripes have called on the supernatural for luck on the road to March 24. Like all things Thai, politics and superstition have been entwined for as long as any remember.
Even the most iconic feature of electioneering – bright yellow marigolds worn as garlands by every MP hopeful – have a superstitious root. Thais believe the flower will bring fame because its Thai name daoruang sounds like the word roongruang, meaning glory and prosperity.
The first step in the long road to the poll usually starts with calling for divine protection. Before they registered with the Election Commission, every major party, from Democrat to Pheu Thai, stopped by to pray at Bangkok’s City Pillar shrine for an auspicious beginning.
In fact, so many parties frequented the venue that two major rivals collided. Pheu Thai’s Sudarat Keyuraphan and Phalang Pracharat chairman Uttama Savanayana exchanged smiles and greetings there Feb. 4.
“Let’s compete in the game together,” Sudarat told Uttama at the shrine.
As the first building constructed in the capital over 200 years ago, the City Pillar is believed to hold special powers. Bangkok’s pillar also has a malevolent reputation due to the tale of a “curse” placed on the city’s fate there.
But Bangkok’s divine aegis probably doesn’t extend outside its urban domain, which is why political parties pray at City Pillar shrines in other provinces when campaigning there. Some have special meaning for the parties.
For instance, the Democrats – whose strongest base is in the south – made offerings at Surat Thani’s 150-year-old city pillar shrine. Chart Thai Pattana Party also had its own ceremony at a shrine dedicated to King Naresuan’s victory over Burmese invaders in Suphanburi. The province is home of the late party founder Banharn Silpa-archa.
Then of course there’s the Lady Suranaree statue in Korat’s city center – the gateway to the northeastern heartland. All parties stopping by have prayed there for luck, including even avowed secularist Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, leader of Future Forward Party.
The pro-junta Phalang Pracharat Party had perhaps the most elaborate ceremony at the statue. Its MP candidates drew mock swords and shouted “Ya Mo, to war!” Ya Mo is a local nickname given to the lady, who reportedly led an attack on Laotian raiders in the old days.
However, one of the party candidates turned the ritual into a bad mojo. Former tech minister Suwit Maesincee was widely ridiculed on social media for drawing the sword with the blade inward, which Thai beliefs indicate a bad luck.
And while no party would admit it publicly, it’s an open secret major political parties consult their own astrologers.Some of these electorally savvy soothsayers have even publicized their predictions.
Famed astrologer Warin Buawiratlert, who often appeared in ceremonies held by military generals, made clear where he stood recently:
“According to my reading of his fortune, it’s the same. It’s still duty of Gen. Prayuth. He will continue to do his duty. His duty is not yet over,” Warin said when a reporter asked whether he thought Prayuth would serve another term.
Others, like fortune teller Fongsanan Chamornchan, are more subtle. She prophesied that the next prime minister will be someone who’s previously held the job or another “important office” in the country, a criterion most candidates would meet.
Two well-known astrologers have also predicted possible “chaos” and “violence” breaking out after the poll, doubtless based on “reading” the minds of many Thais afraid of what uncertainty may follow.